The New Social Media Analytics Assignment for my Comm Research Class (Post 1 of 4)

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A few months ago I wrote about how students in my social media class were using Microsoft Social Engagement to track metrics and do some social listening. At the time, I said I’d follow up with a post about how we were using the software in my communication research class. Well, the time has come! But, this post will do more than dive into how we are using Microsoft Engagement in my class. It will share with you a whole new project my research students are doing.

This is post #1 in a 4 part series on a new assignment my students are working on in my communication research class. The assignment spreads over several weeks with a good amount of time in class working in the computer lab. The project is the result of continued and ongoing efforts I’ve been making in a few classes to enhance student education in social media analytics. The project replaces the sentiment analysis assignment I wrote about a few years ago.

This post will cover an overview of the assignment (A copy of the assignment is below). Post #2 will discuss using pivot tables to analyze Twitter data. Post #3 will discuss Microsoft Social Engagement. Post #4 will discuss Netlyitic.

Update: Post #2 on pivot tables is now available, as is Post #3 on MS Engagement and Post #4 on Netlytic.

First, let me provide some context. In my communication research class (see all posts related to the class), students work in teams to complete 3 projects. Each project gets progressively more difficult. The project we are going to discuss today is project #2.

Overview of Social Media Analytics Project for A Client

The purpose of the assignment is for students to get experience performing a social media analytics audit of a client using a variety of social media analytics and social network analysis tools. The goal is for the students to try and understand their client’s current use of social media and provide insights and recommendations for enhancing that client’s social media presence.

Each team was tasked with going out and finding a client that would agree to participate. While I had hoped that most groups would approach local businesses, they tended to focus more on on-campus groups like athletic teams. This may have been a result of convenience because each team had to acquire several months worth of Twitter data from their client. I will explain that in further detail when we discuss pivot tables in post #2. So students tended to go to on campus organizations where they already knew who ran the Twitter account.

The three main components of the project are:

  1. Client Social Media Profile & Engagement Analysis
    1. Students use Pivot Tables to explore your client’s posts on social media and analyze their overall engagement. For example, students determine the top posts by their client which made that have gotten the most likes.
  2. Analyzing Trends
    1. Students use Microsoft Social Engagement to monitor and analyze the conversation surrounding the client’s brand.
  3. Social Network Analysis
    1. Students use Netlytic.com to build visual representations of their client’s social network on Twitter or Instagram and do some basic analysis.

For each component, I have created a set of research questions that students answer using the appropriate software. The students adapt the research questions a bit to their context when necessary. You can see the research questions in the assignment below.

The Plan in the Classroom

On day 1, I provide a 10 minute lecture on pivot tables. The rest of the class is a lab for students to work on learning how to create pivot tables to analyze Twitter data and answer the RQs.

On day 2, I give a 20 minute lecture about the social engagement software and talk a little about sentiment analysis so students understand what it is when they look at it in the Microsoft software.

Day 3 is a lab day to work on whatever they weren’t able to get done in the pivot tables or the social engagement software.

On day 4, I lecture about social network analysis and some basic concepts. (We cover some other material this day about writing research papers).

On day 5, we finish talking about social network analysis – about 15 minutes – and the students analyze their client’s data.

Research Write Up

After students complete all 3 parts of the project, they then have to write up their study. The research paper format I use in this class is inspired by Don Stacks book, Primer in Public Relations Research.

In the past, by the second project students are writing brief literature reviews. However, because this is the first time I’ve run this project and it has been a lot of work, I called an audible and removed the requirement for the lit review in this project. So, you will see in the assignment below that those requirements have been withheld.

Thus, by the second project students have been taught about writing research problem overviews (problem statement, campaign goals & objectives, research objective & RQs/hypotheses), methods, results and discussion sections.

The students write up their reports. And they are encouraged to share them with their client.

Limitations & Final Thoughts

There are a few drawbacks I’ve experienced thus far with this project.

First, there is a lot of info coming at the students with this project. The assignment sheet itself is several pages long. As such, it is important to explain things several times and work with the students as they are doing this project.

Students need to be responsible for getting the data for this project from their client, creating their own Netlytic account and setting it up to collect data. And, they need to provide me with who their client is and some competitors of the client far enough in advance that I can program it into Microsoft Social Engagement (I’ll go into more depth on this in the individual posts about each section). We had a few groups that made mistakes along the way and were short on data or had to do some last minute scrambling.

The data collection periods across the Twitter CSV file, the Microsoft Social Engagement and the Netlytic are not consistent. This is simply a result of the classroom setting and a lack of full control over when data collection happens. For example, a team’s client may have sent their Twitter data which covers the last 6 months one day, a teammate set up Netlytic to collect data another day, and the day I set up the Microsoft Social Engagement to collect data on their client on a third day.

With these another limitations in mind, the project has been fun thus far this semester. A major benefit of this assignment is that most of the tools used in this assignment are free or inexpensive and not too difficult to learn (and thus teach your students).

Over the next few posts, I will offer some depth on each section of the project.  So check back soon! For now, you can get a copy of the assignment below.

Update: You can now read the follow up posts to this blog series.

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